There’s just no way around it; moving is stressful for children. You are taking away the familiar — familiar bedroom, familiar windows, familiar bathroom location, familiar floor surface, familiar neighbors and church and friends — and replacing it with the unknown. Even our very youngest mover who was three months old during one of our first moves, reacted with stress. Experts say that for children moving is just as traumatic as death. However, moving is often required or it may simply be the best choice for the family. If you need to move with your children, you can help them transition more smoothly.
Get them involved. Have them help you as you prepare for the move. Have them help sort your toys and decide what stays and what goes. Have them assemble boxes, create the signs you need, and carry trash to the trash can. Put an older child in charge of creating your move notebook, listing things on freecycle or running a yard sale. If you are moving some or all of your goods yourself, have your children help pack books and toys, carry lightweight items that will not be in boxes (such as lamps and plastic bins), clean out the refrigerator, wash windows, and even load the truck! By staying involved in the process, children are more able to understand what is happening.
Give Hugs and Verbal Reassurance. Especially with children under eight, anxiety about moving could disturb their sleep and aggravate unwelcome behaviors. Young children do not have a clear understanding about what moving means. Make sure to tell them that these boxes are not going to disappear with their favorite books and toys lost inside. You will also find great books about moving at your local library. Read them.
Visualize the trip. Have children trace your route on a map and mark your destination with a sticker. Study a few things about your new location. If you are moving to a new state, find a book to read about it. You might even be able to find a book about your new hometown. During our most recent move we were able to purchase a book called Goodnight Los Angeles at our used bookstore. We read that book dozens of times before and during our move, and we still read it to this day.
Take pictures. In fact, take pictures of every step in the process and save them in a simple moving photo album or slideshow on your computer. If you plan to move again, you can use your last scrapbook to prepare your children. You can review a slideshow each night and track your progress during the experience. We took lots of pictures for our children this time because most of them were staying at Neena’s house during “the pack” and we were concerned that once we got on the road they would be worried about their stuff and the old house. We posted status updates to facebook all day long so that Neena could share with them what was happening.
Make a Moving Backpack. If you are moving across town, you obviously won’t need this. If you will be driving a day or more to get to your location, have your children each pack a backpack to take on their trip. We were driving across the country on our last trip, so we have lots of ideas about what could go in that pack. Each child had a blank notebook, colored pencils, a small blanket for their laps, one favorite stuffed animal, a few toys (polly pockets, bionicles, legos, cars, travel chess, paper dolls), and a few books. The older children had their iPods with several new audiobooks loaded and also a journal which they were required to write in each day. We also threw a soccer ball in the trunk for rest stops and hotel yards. We were on the road for twelve days. Not all of those days were spent traveling as we stopped at several National Parks to hike and sight see on the way, but we did spend quite a few hours in the car. I don’t even remember a child complaining about not having anything to do. That extra planning paid off!
Have Fun. As much as possible, you need to stay calm. Your children know when you are stressed and even the tiniest child will react to your stress. Which will add to your stress! Let your children roll cars down the truck ramp, color hearts or stars on the boxes, and play hide and go seek in the maze of boxes. Make some precious memories together and give your child a sense of stability during this time of stress.
If you benefited from this blog entry, you can read more about planning for a move.